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In Search Of Lost Time

It is necessary to explain the nature and relationships of the characters in this film as many actors play two characters. The film also takes place in different times, presumably the year that the  protagonist is lying on his deathbed, 1974, and two years from his childhood that he seems to recall throughout the duration of the film, 1935 and 1942. The actress (Margarita Terekhova) who plays the protagonist’s wife, Natalia, also plays his mother, Maria. Likewise, the actor who plays Aleksei as a child also plays Aleksei’s son, Ignat.


The criss-crossing persons and relationships portrayed in this film only add to the impression it leaves its viewer with: that memory is not only occasionally false but also creative. Aleksei calls his mother one morning (although he does not realize it is morning) to ask about a detail from a fire on their farm in 1935. He tells his mother that he had a dream about the event but could not recall whether his father had already left the family at that point. His mother then informs him that an acquaintance of hers just passed away, Lisa from the newspaper she used to work at. Aleksei seems to have trouble recalling this woman, however the next scene depicts an event regarding Lisa and his mother, an event that Aleksei could only have heard about. Does he conjure up a memory for himself out of the stories his mother told him? Are we seeing his mother’s own memory? Whatever the “source” of this scene, the immensity of duration is undeniable. Most importantly, this demonstrates the absence of subjectivity that is possible within cinematic art. The viewer is put in a position of uncertainty as the scenes are projected onto the screen without necessarily explaining their presence. The viewer slips out of the position of subjectivity as they are placed before the mirror of Mirror. It is in this space, before the mirror that is the film, that the viewer is confronted with memories that are not their own. And yet those memories are not limited to any individual.


We see this within the film itself as Aleksei’s childhood memories interlace with those of his mother. But this quality of memory also becomes apparent in the responses that Tarkovsky received from viewers about his film. In a letter written by a young woman to her mother about the film, she describes the multifaceted nature of the film,

“There’s another kind of language, another form of communication: by means of feeling, and images. That is the contact that stops people being separated from each other, that brings down barriers. Will, feeling, emotion — these remove obstacles from between people who otherwise stand on opposite sides of a mirror, on opposite sides of a door . . . The frames of the screen move out, and the world which used to be partitioned off comes into us, becomes something real [. . .] There’s no death, there is immortality.” (Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time 12-13)

It is here, in fact, that Merleau-Ponty’s writing on time comes nearer to Deleuze’s Bergsonian interpretation of time. Merleau-Ponty describes the possibility of a past that was never present:


"Hence reflection does not itself grasp its full significance unless it refers to the unreflective fund which it presupposes, upon which it draws, and which constitutes for it a kind of original past, a past which has never been present.” (Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception 242)


The film functions as an opportunity for its viewer to see differently, to look with memory in mind. Bogue goes on to describe the way that images are defined by Deleuze,


‘“Like a mirror image that joins actual object and virtual reflection, the point of indiscernibility is an ‘objective illusion,’ not something simply ‘in our heads’; it is a real doubling in which virtual and actual are distinct but unassignable, in a relation of ‘mutual presupposition’ or ‘reversibility’” (Bogue 119)


This is precisely the type of mirror that the viewers of Mirror are faced with: a surface on which actual and virtual coalesce and form a liquid crystal that captures the viewer’s attention by drawing up memories that have been lost in time, sculpted or eroded by time, invented by time: by a past which never was but which becomes on the movie screen.

In Bergson’s theory of freedom, time and space, contra Kant, must be disentangled. Time is a qualitative multiplicity, whereas space is a quantitative multiplicity meaning that space is homogeneous and time is heterogeneous. Duration, in Bergson’s conception, allows for progress and conservation to coexist. Time is not limited within a sequential structural and, in a similar vein, the juxtaposition of moments does nothing to describe the heterogeneity of such a continuity. In terms of film theory, this explains why Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of montage, as described in Film Form does not represent a Bergsonian evaluation of time whereas Tarkovsky’s critique of Eisenstein’s conception of montage exemplifies the heterogeneous multiplicity Bergson describes duration as. Only as such a heterogeneous multiplicity can the process of filmmaking be described as sculpting in time. Moreover, only through this concept of time in cinema is there reason to argue that films are particularly well-suited to address issues of conscience and memory and especially adept at merging ethics and aesthetics. 

Tarkovsky references Proust in regarding the lost time that Mirror makes available to the viewer and then adds,

"Childhood memories which for years had given me no peace suddenly vanished, as if they had melted away, and at last I stopped dreaming about the house where I had lived so many years before." (Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time 128)

The director goes on to describe how Mirror did not crystallize into the film he intended until it was completed,

"This account of the making of Mirror illustrates that for me scenario is a fragile, living, ever-changing structure and that a film is only made at the moment when work is finally completed." (Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time 131)

In other words, a Bergsonian process of bringing one's memories to the perception (of the film, in this case) is the only way to actualize the virtuality of the film. 

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